Fargo

Considering the battle royal that awaits college sports over whether athletes should be paid because universities, the NCAA, businesses and countless people make billions of dollars on their backs, perhaps selling suds at North Dakota State basketball games isn't that big of a deal.

But, here in the land of the Bison, it is. And it is possibly a litmus test for what might come.

NDSU announced Tuesday, Oct. 1, it will allow beer and wine sales at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex during men's and women's basketball games and wrestling matches this season. Allowing alcohol sales at on-campus sporting events is a first for the school, a dipping of the toe that follows a regional and national trend that's been building for years.

Colleges and universities are trying to attract more people to their games — college football attendance has been declining steadily in recent years — and they can put a few more dollars in their coffers while doing so. NDSU will get a share of the revenue generated by alcohol sales at the SHAC, much like it gets a share of concession money generated during Bison football games at the Fargodome.

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But, also in line with national trends, the university will not explicitly refer to this move as "alcohol sales" or a "revenue generator." Instead, an athletic department press release referred to beer and wine sales at the SHAC, in conjunction with new general admission seating, as "fan improvements."

There will likely be griping from some that, given North Dakota's and Fargo's high rankings among binge-drinking locales, selling alcohol at games on the NDSU campus is a bit untoward. Those people have a point. It's been argued in this space that there needs to be some places, somewhere in Fargo, where booze isn't an option.

But the wave on this subject seems unavoidable at this point. Regional peers like the University of North Dakota, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and the University of Northern Iowa sell beer and wine in some way, shape or form at athletic events.

And it appears just the tip of the toe being dipped is getting wet at this point.

An athletics department sponsor, Buffalo Wild Wings, will operate beer and wine sales out of a club suite on the east upper concourse. The suite will be open to all fans. Drinks can be consumed in the suite or carried out to designated areas north and south of the suite on the upper concourse.

Only fans 21 and older can purchase alcohol, of course. A valid wristband is needed and a limit of two drinks may be purchased at one time.

Drinks cannot be taken into the seating areas, Bison athletic director Matt Larsen said.

"We have to do it right and I think we have a good plan in place to do that," Larsen said. "We've worked with campus security and university police to make sure it's done right. For those who want to have alcohol, they can in a limited area and still see the game. For those who don't want it, they aren't going to have it in their face in their seats."

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Prices have not been determined, nor have specific choices. It's likely there will be a craft beer available along with more common selections. There will be a red wine and a white wine available.

Larsen said the athletic department has been working on a plan to sell beer and wine in the SHAC for a few months.

If you're thinking this is a test-run toward getting alcohol sales in the Fargodome during Bison football games, well, it certainly feels like it. But nothing is imminent on that front.

NDSU and dome officials told The Forum recently beer and wine sales at that building are on the backburner for now because the focus is on making renovations to the concourses that would make such sales more palatable toward fans. The concern is that the dome's concourses are so narrow, and free space so limited, that alcohol sales during sold-out Bison games would lead to fan traffic jams of epic proportions.

While major concerts often have crowds as large or larger than Bison football games, concert fans don't necessarily head to the concession stands to get beer at the same time — as they probably would during football games that have scheduled quarter and halftime breaks.

The entity that oversees the dome, the Fargo Dome Authority, has been talking about changes its members would like to see in the building, which opened in 1992. Expanded concourses, bathrooms, seating and entrances are all likely possibilities. Plans are on hold as dome officials work with advisers to hammer out financing options for the project, which could cost as much as $50 million.

The Bison men's basketball team, which drew an announced average of 2,231 at the SHAC last season, opens Oct. 30 with a home exhibition game against Dickinson State.